The Federal Government’s school feeding programme is still battling with teething problems three years after it was inaugurated, investigations by The Punch have revealed.
According to findings by The Punch, while the programme was irregular in schools it had started, many others were left out of it.
It was also learnt that only pupils in primary one to three were being fed in schools benefiting from the programme.
It was gathered that many schools in the rural and swampy areas were excluded from the programme because of the Federal Government officers’ inability to access them.
At the launch of the Home Grown School Feeding programme in 2016, the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, said the scheme was aimed at providing free school meals.
It is also aimed at “increasing school enrolment and completion” and “improving child nutrition and health.”
Investigations revealed that the crisis associated with the programme had not enabled it to achieve its aims.
413 schools left out in Enugu
Out of the 1,204 public primary schools in Enugu State, The Punch’s investigations showed that 413 were not benefiting from the programme.
One of our correspondents assessed the programme at the New Haven Primary Schools 1, 2,3 and 4; Construction Primary Schools 1 and 2; the Ekulu Primary School and the Independence Layout Primary School, all in the Enugu metropolis.
Nursery pupils excluded in Enugu
It was observed that only pupils in primary one to three were being fed, while those in nursery one to three were completely excluded from the programme.
Only 49 pupils selected in Enugu school
The correspondent noticed that in the New Haven Primary School 1, only 49 out of 96 pupils, who were in primary one to three, were being fed.
It was gathered that the management of the programme had in October reduced the amount of money paid to each cook, as a result, only 49 pupils, in some cases 30 pupils, were selected from primary one to three, for feeding.
According to the menu obtained from one of the schools, the pupils are fed with yams and beans together with oranges on Monday.
On Tuesday, they are given jollof rice and chicken with bananas. On Wednesday, they are fed with Okpa with watermelon. On Thursday, they eat fried potato and egg sauce as well as oranges, while on Friday, the pupils are given Igba Oka with akidi, vegetable and watermelon.
Head teachers lament nursery pupils’ exclusion
Although head teachers, who spoke to the correspondent, attested to the quality of the food, they lamented that the critical segment (the nursery section) of the schools was left out.
The state Coordinator of the scheme, Ifeanyi Onah, in an interview with The Punch, confirmed the reduction in the number of the pupils and schools benefiting from the programme.
Onah said, “This programme is designed essentially for all public primary schools in Nigeria. In Enugu State, we have about 1,204 schools. When we began the programme, we started with 1,220 schools, but due to some adjustments made by the state Universal Basic Education Board, a few schools were merged and the number of schools reduced.
“We have about 1,204 schools in the state and unfortunately not all of them are benefiting. We have 791 schools that are benefitting. Others are left out. Presently, about 114,000 pupils are being fed in the state.”
On why the programme did not cover all the schools, Onah explained, “There were technical challenges from the headquarters coupled with the submission of irreconcilable data on the cooks who were recruited at the inception.”
According to him, because of the irreconcilable data, some of the cooks were removed from the programme.
He said that since 2017, programme managers in Abuja refused to employ more cooks and as a result, many schools were not taking part in the programme.
Onah stated, “When we recruited (the cooks), we asked those selected to provide their personal data, but regrettably after the banks had opened accounts for them and their names were forwarded to Abuja, during inter-bank settlement system verification, it was discovered that some names and bank verification numbers did not correspond. Even some pictures didn’t correspond with what they had in the BVNs and some of the cooks were dropped in the first set of payment.”
He further explained that when such cooks were removed from the programme, the schools they were posted to were also excluded.
On the number of time the pupils were being fed, the programme manager disclosed that the condition for feeding was that a cook would be paid before cooking for a school.
Onah stated, “Their payment is based on N70 per child and the specific amount that a cook is paid will determine the number of children that will be fed and how many days the feeding will cover. Since we started, it is either they are paid for 10 working days or 20. Ten working days is seen as two weeks, while 20 working days is seen as one month.”
On the reduction in the number of pupils, Onah said, “Officers from headquarters told us that they were going to deploy people from the National Bureau of Statistics in some states to confirm data submitted and conduct a headcount of pupils.
“You can’t use a headcount to determine enrolment because it is possible that you may visit a school and about four or five pupils will not come because of illness. They may not be in school for other reasons.
“In Enugu State, about 80 per cent of the primary schools are in the rural areas. How can a stranger claim he knows the routes to all those places? Within a short period, they told us that the NBS officers had concluded their work and submitted their data. Within a short time, they claimed that they had visited 1,204 schools in Enugu State.”
Onah said while some cooks were short-paid, others were not paid at all. One of the cooks, De Blessing Sam, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “I was feeding 96 pupils before at New Haven Primary School 1, but since the last phase, the money they paid me was for only for 46 pupils. How do you share food for 46 pupils among 96 pupils? I don’t know what went wrong but the government should either fund the programme or stop it.”
A’Ibom: Only 154,000 out of 334,353 pupils benefiting
In Akwa Ibom State, the Focal Person for the School Feeding Programme, Dr Godwin Akpan, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said the number of pupils benefiting from the programme dropped from 334,353 to 154,000.
Akpan said out of 1,150 schools, the school feeding programme could only capture 1,105 schools in the state.
He explained that the pupils and schools under the programme were drastically reduced last year after officials of the NBS conducted a headcount across the state.
Schools in swampy areas left out, officials can’t access them
During the headcount, he said some schools were not captured because the NBS officials did not find cooks and could not access all the schools, especially those in the swampy areas.
55 A’Ibom schools not benefitting
“Akwa Ibom State has a total of 1,150 schools out of which we are currently feeding 1,105 schools, 55 schools are currently not benefiting.
“Before now we were feeding over 300,000 people, but last year, the National Bureau of Statistics came here to do a headcount and that reduced the number drastically from 334,353 to 154,000.
We have protested – A’Ibom official
“We have protested and appealed to the Federal Government to send back the NBS officers for the revalidation, but up till now, they have not done so. We need to have over 2,000 cooks. After the headcount, we now have 1,436.”
It is not constant – Teacher
One of the teachers of Lutheran Primary School, Urua Ikpa, Itu Local Government Area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “The school feeding programme is a failure because I learnt that under normal circumstances the children are supposed to be fed from Monday to Friday, unfortunately, here, there is nothing like that.
“Some days, you see them twice in a week, and some weeks, you don’t even see them at all. They are not constant”
Benue programme stopped in October
Investigations by The Punch correspondent in Benue State showed that the programme had stopped in the state since October.
The Focal Person of the Social Investment Programme in Benue State, Dr Terries Damsa, confirmed this in an interview on Wednesday.
He lamented that government had yet to pay the food vendors. He said, “Already, the academic session is closing on Friday (December 13) and government has yet to pay the food vendors.”
Earlier, the Director of the School Feeding Programme in the state, Jonathan Iorhemba, explained that 2,490 schools were selected for the programme in the state.
Iorhemba said that 3,138 schools with a population of 569,253 were initially enrolled for the programme in the state.
He explained that the Federal Government through the NBS embarked on an independent headcount and arrived at 2,490 schools.
“At the inception of the programme, we were feeding 569,253 pupils until the headcount conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics.
546 schools left out in Benue
“Later, the bureau came and did an independent headcount and they said they captured 2,490 schools and 546 schools were left out.
“We have communicated to them on the 546 schools not captured. They asked us to come with the names of the schools and verifiable evidence which we have done. The programme has stopped since October 18 because the food vendors are being owed.”
Benue pupils have forgotten about programme
Our correspondent, who visited the LGEA Primary at Wuukum in Makurdi, observed that the pupils had forgotten about the feeding programme.
Nasir, a primary three pupil of the school, who was approached did not remember until his friend, Terna interjected, saying, “We have not had feeding in this school since October.
FG should sustain it – Teacher
But a teacher in the school, Mrs Doshima Inienger, urged the Federal Government to sustain it.
She stated, “The school feeding programme has helped a lot because I can categorically say that it has increased pupil enrolment.”
In Gombe State, coordinator of the programme, Hajiya Dijatu Bappah, said there were about 1,331 schools benefiting from the scheme.
Bappah said, “We have 225,162 pupils and 1,331 schools enjoying the school feeding programme. Primarys 1, 2 or 3 are our target.”
She however refused to state reasons why not all public primary schools were considered for the programme.
In Ondo State, it was observed that not all schools were benefiting from the feeding programme. In schools benefiting, only primary one to three are being fed.
A teacher in the state, who confided in The Punch, said, “Only pupils in primary one to three are being fed.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the state coordinator of the programme, Olubunmi Ademosu, did not succeed as she neither picked calls to her phone nor responded to an SMS sent to her.
Programme yet to begin in Kwara, Lagos
The programme has yet to start in states such as Kwara and Lagos. The Chief Press Secretary to the Kwara State Governor, Rafiu Ajakaye, said, “We have met with the coordinator of the programme on how Kwara can join. So we will definitely join it.”
On its part, the Lagos State Government said the school feeding programme might commence before the end of the first quarter in 2020.
In an interview with one of our correspondents, the Assistant Director of Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Mr Kayode Sutton, said the state government was putting everything in place to ensure the success of the scheme in Lagos.
He said, “Right now, we have not started, not because we are not going to start but we have to put things right. There are more to it. We have to consider the population of Lagos State pupils. We have to consider the kind of food we want to give. We have to consider a lot of factors. It must not fail in Lagos, if it starts, it starts, it must not stop. In Lagos State, we are known for excellence.”
When contacted, officers of the Ministry Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development said the Federal Government was addressing problems relating to the programme.
They admitted the scheme had encountered some hitches in a few states and that the Federal Government was working to address the concerns in the affected states.
One of them said, “The minister has made it clear that beneficiaries of all the social investment programmes will access interventions designed for them within the stipulated guidelines and it includes those benefitting from the school feeding scheme.”
A source in the Nigeria Social Investment Office told one of our correspondents that the commencement of the programme in Lagos and Kwara was awaiting the approval of the minister for humanitarian affairs.
When contacted, the Communications Manager, Nigeria Social Investment Office, Justice Bibiye, said he would get across to the Coordinator of the NSIO, Mrs Maryam Uwais, and get back to our correspondent. He had yet to send a response as of 5:34pm on Sunday.
‘Why FG insists on headcount’
An officer of the NSIO, however, confided in The PUNCH, that the Federal Government insisted on headcount to expose fraud. “You can’t rule out the issue of fraud. Figures may be inflated. That is the essence of headcount,” he said.